Standing desk, desk cycle, doing yoga and stretching – what else do you do in order to work comfortably, without hurting your spine?
Consultant and Founder of Blue Alpine Research Feyyaz Alingan pitched employers on an overlooked posture that might be beneficial in the office – the squat. Not sitting or standing but squatting – a posture most Westerners have lost but is a regular occurrence throughout Asia.
When we sit on a chair, our hips are at 90 percent degrees and we fail to use most of their range of motion. Standing helps open up the front crease of the hips, but it does not do anything to use the opposite end of the same range of motion.
In a study entitled “Sitting, squatting, and the evolutionary biology of human inactivity” published on PNAS, researchers found that squatting equals more muscle activity compared to sitting and can reduce health risks. Being a couch potato – or sitting in an office chair all day – requires less muscle activity than squatting or kneeling. Since light levels of muscle activity require fuel, which generally means burning fats, then squatting and kneeling postures might not be as harmful as sitting in chairs, researchers explained. This means that spending more time in postures that at least require some low-level muscles activity – such as squat and kneel – could be good for our health.
As researchers from the Harvard Business School discovered, our postures affect our behaviour. In a series of experiments, psychologists had subjects work from different devices: an iPod touch, a laptop, or a desktop. In a curious ergonomic turn, desktop users were bolder than the folks hunkered over petite devices.
The reason? Postures trigger different chemical reactions in human brains. A famous example is that putting a smile on your face actually helps you to feel happier, even if you do not have a good “reason” to feel that way. Similarly, the more open the shoulders, arms, and the rest of your body, the more you will feel confident and capable. Hiding your hands is a sign of feebleness, while having your arms high and open is a positive posture that comes naturally to chimpanzees, cobras, and humans.
The inference that can be made about squatting is that it allows people to rest, unlike standing, while maintaining openness. This is as opposed to sitting, which closes an individual off and weakens them. In essence, squatting is the postural equivalent of a cup of green tea, creating both calmness and alertness.
Squatting for five hours might be excessive, especially for the hips. But squatting for 5-10 minutes might be suitable and possible. Employees could put their laptops on a bench and work from there, perched upon their chair (if stable) or work from the ground. Office furniture designers Steelcase have explained that maintaining a palette of postures throughout the workday leads to being alert and productive self, preserving health and optimising psychological and physiological responses. So adding a squat to that posture palette might be entirely justified.
Image source: The Guardian
You can alternate between standing, squatting, and sitting at work ideally every 20-30 minutes. Switching up helps increase your concentration, energy, productivity, and health. Here is how to practice squat effectively (the video will explain it better):